“The tourist is backpacking through the highlands of Scotland, and he stops in a pub to get a drink. The only people in there are a bartender and an old man nursing a beer. He orders a pint and they sit in silence for awhile.
“Suddenly, the old man turns to him and says, ‘Y’See this bar? I built this bar with my bare hands. I found the finest wood in the county, gave it more love and care than my own child. But do they call me MacGregor the bar builder? No, no….’
“He points out the window. ‘Y’See that stone wall out there? I built that stone wall with my bare hands. I found every stone, placed them just so for the rain and the cold. But do they call me MacGregor the stone wall builder? No, no….’
“He points out the other window. ‘Y’See the pier on the lake out there? I built that pier with my bare hands. I drove the pilings against the tide and the sand, plank by plank. But do they call me MacGregor the pier builder? No, no…
“‘But you [bleep] one goat….’”
– Transcribed from a TED Talk by Andrew Stanton, available at Ted.com.
“To attract people, the leaders of a jazz effort in the Armory must face the issue of the safety reputation of the 18th and Vine area. Half of the white population and nearly three-quarters of the black, are nervous about the assumed dangers of the neighborhood; our researchers noted that white patrons interviewed at Gates’ and Bryant’s, who had come into the neighborhood mid-day, were nervous about coming back at night....”
— From a study on reuses of the Armory Building at 18th and Highland (more popularly known as the Boone Theater), conducted for the Black Economic Union in 1979.
Today, just up Highland Street from the Armory building, sit beautiful houses. They line the road across from the Mutual Musicians Foundation, the last of the homes that were once integral to the 18th and Vine District. They have been refurbished for rent, as has the Rochester Hotel next door to the Foundation.
For too long, decrepit surroundings reinforced too many visitors’ fears of this inner city district. Appearances supported perceptions dating back decades. I would tell my suburban Johnson County neighbors I was headed down to the district to enjoy a show at The Blue Room, or at The Gem, or the late night jam at the Foundation. They openly wondered if I would be safe. And if I coaxed a suburban friend to join me, they would nervously survey the surroundings before stepping into the Foundation. Only then would the magic take over.
But not anymore. Now, these lovely homes and rentals are the surroundings a National Historic Landmark deserves.
Meanwhile, along 18th Street, everything has changed on the north side of the block since that 1979 report. Museums and modern offices and apartments have replaced old buildings and ruins that even locals described as the ghetto. Crowds fill The Blue Room, at the corner of 18th and Vine, nearly every weekend night. I estimate over 7000 people packed the grounds behind the museums for the Rhythm and Ribs festival two years ago.
Fans filling the Foundation for an overnight jam tell their friends about the welcome feel of the neighborhood. People visiting The Blue Room one evening, or a concert at The Gem, or the festival, tell coworkers and family about a wonderful night and how glad they are that they went.
That’s how it’s done. That’s how, over time, to change perceptions ingrained for decades. Perceptions can evolve, slowly, through good experiences and good news.
From KCTV5.com on Saturday, September 28, 2013:
“Four people are in the hospital after an early morning shooting.
“The shooting took place about 4:20 a.m. at 19th Street and Highland Avenue outside of the Mutual Musicians Foundation....
“Four people were shot and all were injured. Police said at least two of the four people suffered serious injuries.”
From The Kansas City Star on October 9:
“[A] victim told police that he was standing outside when a fight broke out. He said someone walked up, stuck a gun in his back and demanded ‘his stuff.’ When he said no, the gunman shot him in the chest and leg, the victim said.”
From The Kansas City Star on October 1:
“Besides wounding four people, two of them critically, the gunfire has city and jazz district officials rattled....
“Rickie Ward...lives across from the foundation in one of those restored houses, the one struck by the stray bullet....
“‘I’ve lived in the Jazz District 15 years,’ he said, ‘but I don’t know if I want to stay here anymore.’”
“Were you down there?” a neighbor asked. “Are you okay?”
I wasn’t there.
“I knew it wasn’t safe. You’re not going back, are you?”
Original perceptions are vividly reinforced.
People only know the goat.